is a musical
Musical theatre is a form of theatre combining songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance. The emotional content of the piece – humor, pathos, love, anger – as well as the story itself, is communicated through the words, music, movement and technical aspects of the entertainment as an...
with a book and lyrics by Bob Merrill
Bob Merrill was an American songwriter, theatrical composer, lyricist, and screenwriter.Merrill was born Henry Merrill Levan in Atlantic City, New Jersey and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following a stint with the Army during World War II, he moved to Hollywood, where he worked as a...
and music by Jule Styne
Jule Styne was a British-born American songwriter especially famous for a series of Broadway musicals, which included several very well known and frequently revived shows.-Early life:...
Adapted from the Jean Arnold novel of the same name, its central character is a Southern
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...
woman who, long abused by her recently deceased law officer husband, turns to alcohol for comfort, becomes a nymphomaniac prostitute, and eventually is institutionalized.
Bob Merrill and Jule Styne met with director Gene Saks
Gene Saks is an American stage and film director.-Life and career:Saks was born in New York City, the son of Beatrix and Morris J. Saks...
for several weeks to work on the musical, but Saks eventually decided not to do the show. Merrill then suggested Gower Champion
Gower Carlyle Champion was an American actor, theatre director, choreographer, and dancer.-Early years:Champion was born in Geneva, Illinois, the son of John W. Champion and Beatrice Carlisle. He was raised in Los Angeles, California, where he graduated from Fairfax High School...
, who agreed to tackle the project because "It grabbed me." Angela Lansbury
Angela Brigid Lansbury CBE is an English actress and singer in theatre, television and motion pictures, whose career has spanned eight decades and earned her more performance Tony Awards than any other individual , with five wins...
liked the idea of an intimate show for a small theatre.
The show was plagued with problems from the start. Merrill's and Champion's intent to bring to the stage the techniques and abstractions of avant-garde
Avant-garde means "advance guard" or "vanguard". The adjective form is used in English to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics....
films never was fulfilled. Champion wanted a "no-glitz approach" and so the set design was a unit set that had to "take on...different aspects...and wasn't complex" Producer Alexander H. Cohen
Alexander H. Cohen was a prolific American theatrical producer who mounted more than one hundred productions on both sides of the Atlantic. He was the only American producer to maintain offices in the West End as well as on Broadway.-Personal life:Cohen was born in New York City...
was dissatisfied with director/choreographer Champion's approach to the material and his dictatorial treatment of the cast, and the latter ultimately banned him from rehearsals. Leading lady Angela Lansbury pledged to boycott a move to Broadway
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...
unless everything was fixed during the out-of-town tryout in Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...
Cohen scheduled the Broadway opening at the Majestic Theatre
The Majestic Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 245 West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan.The Majestic, one of the largest Broadway theatres with 1,607 seats, traditionally has been used as a venue for major musical theatre productions...
for March 15, 1971, the last day of Tony Award
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...
eligibility, in order to get publicity for the show. The Boston tryout opened on February 1, 1971 at the Shubert Theatre
The Citi Performing Arts Center is located in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. It consists of two theatres, Wang Theatre and Shubert Theatre, both of which are neighbors, on Tremont Street, in Boston's Theatre District...
. In addition to Lansbury, the cast included Jon Cypher
-Biography:Born in New York City, Cypher graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1949 and Brooklyn College in 1953. He made his television debut as the Prince in the original 1957 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella opposite Julie Andrews in the title role...
and Charlotte Rae
Charlotte Rae is a prolific American character actress of stage, comedienne, singer and dancer, who in her six decades of television is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Edna Garrett in the sitcoms Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life...
. Champion was the director, scenic design was by Oliver Smith
Oliver Prince Smith was a General in the United States Marine Corps and a highly decorated combat veteran of World War II and the Korean War...
and costumes by Ann Roth
Ann Roth is an American costume designer for films and Broadway theatre.Born in Hanover, Pennsylvania, Roth was a Carnegie Mellon graduate who began her career as a scenery painter for the Pittsburgh Opera. She intended to remain in the field of production design until she met Irene Sharaff at the...
. Much to Lansbury's relief, Cohen closed the show in Boston on March 6, 1971.
Although bootleg recordings of the entire show are known to exist, no original cast recording was ever released at the time. In 1982, record producer Bruce Yeko (who headed the Original Cast
Original Cast Records is a record label based in Georgetown, Connecticut, that specialises in obscure theatre recordings, primarily cast albums from little-known Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway and other stage productions, but also theatre-related film scores, cabaret, concert and solo...
record label) reunited the principal members of the original cast (Angela Lansbury, Mark Dawson, Peter Lombard and Bert Michaels) to record a new studio album of the show. The LP was re-issued on CD in 1993 by Varèse Sarabande
Varèse Sarabande is an American record label, distributed by Universal Music Group, which specializes in film scores and original cast recordings. It aims to reissue rare or unavailable albums as well as newer releases by artists no longer under a contract...
Prettybelle Sweet is the alcoholic wife of a bigoted southern sheriff. After his death, she learns that he and his friends have been unjust to the local minority people. However, as Prettybelle attempts to make amends, she discovers that the people of the small town do not approve. She permits the minority men to rape her and she becomes involved with Mason, a liberal lawyer. As the townspeople riot, Mason betrays her and she retreats to an asylum.
- "You Ain't Hurtin' Your Ole Lady None"
- "You Never Looked Better"
- "To a Small Degree"
- "Back from the Great Beyond"
- "How Could I Know?"
- "I Never Did Imagine"
- "In the Japanese Gardens"
- "Individual Thing"
- "I Met a Man"
- "God's Garden"
- "The No-tell Motel"
- "I'm in a Tree"
- "When I'm Drunk I'm Beautiful"
The opening night audience was angered by the musical's story. "Clearly, Boston was not the place to open an unconventional musical like this one." Oliver Smith noted that "the audience absolutely resented every moment of it, and just booed and hissed and carried on." The critics were brutal. Critic Kevin Kelly said the it was "pretty bad", and Variety
wrote that it was "a collection of ethnic slams and four-letter words." However, critic Elliot Norton praised the show, writing that "this bold new show...could become a memorable American musical play. It can and it should."
According to Steven Suskin, the musical was "rather fascinating if unconventional, and the score is not uninteresting. But the show's subject matter, back in the dark days of 1971, doomed it."
Ken Mandelbaum is an American columnist, critic, and author whose primary field of expertise is musical theatre.Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Mandelbaum was introduced to Broadway musical theatre by his parents and grandparents at an early age...
wrote that "it that it did not work and was a serious turn-off to the audience. Angela Lansbury was never better than in the title role."
- Gottfried, Martin, Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury. Little, Brown and Company 1999. ISBN 0-316-32225-3